The New Utah Pride Center

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Since its opening in 1992, the Utah Pride Center has been a staple in Utah’s LGBTQ+ Community.   With a vision of a thriving LGBTQ+ community in Utah, the Utah Pride Center has faced challenges and always come out on the other side stronger.  In May of 2018, UPC opened the doors of its brand new space on 1380 South Main Street and introduced their incoming Executive Director, Rob Moolman.  

Tami and I have been long time supporters of UPC and we were thrilled to visit the new space and meet Rob and catch up with friends. 

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The Center not only provides family, youth and senior programming, but also now has a full mental health facility within the new building.  These services are not only individual, but also groups.  The Survivors of Suicide Attempts group is literally a life-saving program of the center that meets weekly.  The Center continues to provide youth drop-in hours as well as community programming including the Utah Pride Festival.  

To find out more about the work the Utah Pride Center is doing, please visit www.UtahPrideCenter.org

Honoring Those Who Run Toward Fire.

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Last week our house just missed burning to the ground. From a glass half full perspective, last week our house was saved. I feel self-indulgent to even be focusing on it, because as I write this there is a raging fire in Northern California. Thousands and thousands of people have been forced to flee, hundreds of homes have been burned to the ground, people have died. Here in Utah, there are at least six active wildfires burning today. As my wife, Tami, noted this morning on our neighborhood walk in this valley-wide smoky air, “It seems like the earth is smoldering.” Yet in the midst of wildfires and national political chaos (where it seems like our country is divided into two acerbic camps who have no chance of understanding one another), our fire gave us the chance to experience a fabulously functioning local government and the generous and courageous actions of family and friends.

July 24this “Pioneer Day” in Utah. It is a state holiday and people celebrate with parades, picnics and fireworks. Because we live on an open mountain of grass that is always dry and combustible by July, we make a point of being home on July 4thand 24thjust in case someone’s fireworks get out of control. On the afternoon of this July 24th, Tami was home with all three of our grandchildren (ages 16, 14 and 13). They were here to do one of retired English teacher Tami’s summer lessons, this one called “how to write the five-paragraph essay.” They had just started the lesson when Tami noticed smoke coming up the hill. It was a fire that burned about 100 acres, sent many residents fleeing, injured three firefighters, came close to many backyards, and fortunately did not burn down any homes. The fire lit up a blue spruce in our yard like a torch, and while that tree was only four feet from our home, the sparks and ashes were kept at bay by the quick actions of our son, a neighbor and a bevy of Salt Lake City firefighters. We lost some trees and shrubs, had smoke in our house, and damage to our air conditioning and electrical systems — all minor issues in the scheme of what fires can do.

This event was terrifying; yet it also gave us a chance to experience the courage of family, the kindness of friends, and the high degree of skill of our local fire fighters. Here are a few observations on our experience:

-Between the time Tami first spotted the fire and the moment she and the grandkids were forced to flee our home, they had about 15 minutes to load valuables into our cars. The kids were calm, fast acting, and constantly trying to reassure their grandmother that things were going to be all right. When it came time to drive away, the 16-year old and the 14-year old drove the cars up the hill and away from the danger. (who knew the 14-year old could drive, but how he learned is a question we will save for another day….)

-Neighbors came running to our house to help. One helped get a hose on our burning side yard before the firefighters arrived. Another came into the house and helped organize what possessions to try to save.

-Our grandkids called their dads, both of whom came flying from across town. Our son, after running up the mile-long hill to our house because the police weren’t letting anyone drive up into the affected neighborhoods, got to our side yard before the fire crew and got a hose on the blue spruce as it exploded into a fire torch. Our son-in-law got here separately, had to run up that same hill, and helped calm down the family and organized the disaster clean up team once we were allowed back to the house.

-I wasn’t home when the fire started, and by the time I got to the bottom of our hill, the police weren’t even letting anyone walk up the street. I had to wait for two hours, and it was clear from news clips that were coming in that our house was endangered. While waiting there with 40 or so other frantic neighbors who wanted to get to their homes, their pets, their kids, I met many people who offered me water, a shoulder to lean on, a place to stay should we not be able to get back into our home.

-While I was waiting to get back up the hill, and back to my family (who were told to stay put in the cars at the top of the hill), my phone lit up with texts and calls from concerned friends and colleagues. One of my work colleagues, who was on the other side of the country, saw the news alerts and immediately texted me the security code to her home in an adjoining city in case we needed a place to stay.

-Events like these can also come with a sprinkling of humor. For us, the laughter came later that evening when we were allowed back into our home and we unloaded the cars. It was fascinating to see what the kids had saved. Computers, the contents of our safe where we stash some extra cash and our jewelry (who knew they knew the safe code, but again, a question for another day), Bert & Ernie from the toy room, lots of baby pictures, Lucy our dog, decorative Buddha statues, and all of our winter coats.

-We have a new appreciation for the value of local government. The importance of keeping things running gets lost in the 24 hour a day news cycle about all the dysfunction in national politics. However, our city rocks! Within minutes of the fire’s outbreak, fire fighters were on scene. Within an hour, there were probably 60 fire fighters on scene, along with helicopters dropping huge buckets of water from the air on the edges of the fire. That kind of response doesn’t happen without a ton of behind the scenes smart organization of city departments. Our Mayor called that night to see if we were OK. Our City Councilman came to our house the next day to see if we were OK and to inspect the damage. This is what government is all about — proper planning, excellent execution, and being present when your citizens experience problems.

-Over the next few days we cleaned up our house. It will take longer to get over the trauma of coming so close to losing this home we built 16 years ago. We are left with new appreciation for all those people who saw us in trouble and ran toward the fire, and us, to help.

Final glass half full observation: it was actually an anniversary present to us that our home was saved. July 24this not our only anniversary (see Why I’ve Been Married Eight Times ), but it is our first anniversary and the one we celebrate.

Support Our Schools Now!

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Right now, Utah students are learning with fewer resources than ever. This results in burdensome classroom sizes, stagnant student learning and most importantly, reduced opportunities for our children.  Utah can do better, and we must. 

This year, Utahns will have the choice to increase Utah’s education funding to an adequate level by voting YES on nonbonding option question 1.

Our Schools Now:

  • Calls for a 10 cent increase in the state gas tax
  • Allocates each Utah school an additional $150 per enrolled student
  • Empowers local parents, teachers and principals to make investment decisions that are best for students of each school
  • Requires funding to be invested in ways that improve student achievement
  • Measures student progress annually to ensure proper uses of funding
  • Prepares students for tomorrow’s opportunities by providing high-quality education

And How will this help Utah Students?

Tami and I are proud to be part of the vast list of supporters of Our Schools Now.  I hope you’ll join us by voting YES on nonbonding option question 1!

Peace and Possibility Project supports And Justice for All in 2018

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And Justice for All (AJFA) is a nonprofit created in 1998 by Utah’s primary providers of civil legal services – Disability Law Center, Legal Aid Society of Salt Lake and Utah Legal Services. Despite having differing missions, these three agencies shared a common vision of creating equal access to our system of justice in Utah. 

Tami and I are so pleased to support AJFA and recently attended their Justice Rising Breakfast where AJFA recognized the incredible work done by the long-time Executive Director, Kai Wilson.  The work being done by AJFA is changing lives and changing laws.  Here is just one of AJFA’s client success stories:  

Bill and Jim had been living together for six months when they got into an argument. When Bill tried to leave the room and go to bed, Jim physically assaulted him—punching him in the face, scratching and biting him and preventing him from leaving. A neighbor heard the commotion and came to see what was going on. When Jim tried to attack Bill again, the neighbor stood between them. Jim was then asked to leave, but when going, he lunged at Bill again and they both fell down the stairs. Bill called police and they responded with a victim advocate. Although Bill had serious physical injuries, Jim was not arrested, but simply asked to leave the residence. Bill did not feel safe. The victim advocate referred Bill to Legal Aid Society of Salt Lake for a protective order.  Bill went to the courthouse and met with a Legal Aid paralegal, who conducted an intake interview, had the case reviewed and approved by an attorney, and filed a protective order for Bill. Legal Aid Society’s attorney represented Bill at the protective order hearing which Jim contested. After presenting argument and the police report, the protective order was granted. 

The partnership between the three individual organizations provides a stable and consistent source of legal services for those who cannot afford legal representation because of disability, poverty, age, migrant status, or race.  For the last 15 years, Kai Wilson has lead the organization, and was recognized at the Justice Rising Breakfast.  Kai has grown the capacity and size of AJFA and built the organization up to be successful and really give legal aid to those that need it most. As noted by Legal Aid Director Stewart Ralphs in his tribute to Kai, "Kai is unsurpassed in his ability to bring people and organizations together to make the most meaningful impacts possible."

The Peace and Possibility Project is pleased to support And Justice for All with a significant gift for 2018.  To find out more about the important work that And Justice for All is doing, please visit: http://andjusticeforall.org

The National Center for Lesbian Rights, Kate Kendell, and The Audacity to Fight for Justice.

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My wife, Tami, and I were fortunate to be in San Francisco for the 41st anniversary celebration of the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR).   Along with celebrating NCLR’s work, the 2,000 plus people gathered at the Palace of Fine Arts were honoring my long-term friend Kate (Kathy) Kendell as she retires at the end of 2018 from 22 years of being the Executive Director of NCLR.   Along with tributes to Kate, the program gave special honors to the two plaintiffs in Doe vs. Trump, the NCLR lawsuit challenging President Trump’s ban on transgendered people serving in the military.  Listening to these two individuals (ages 20 and 22) address the crowd, I was inspired and realized that we really are now living in a world that Kate Kendell helped create. 

Reflecting back 40 years, when I was about the age of these plaintiffs, I remember my first contact w/ NCLR. The organization was founded in 1977, the same year I graduated from law school.  In 1979, I attended a “Women in the Law” conference in San Antonio.  There were at least a hundred seminars to choose from during the three day gathering. I noticed there were a few put on by some women affiliated with an organization out of San Francisco called “the Lesbian Rights Project” (predecessor to NCLR).  I was intrigued, even though at the time I was married to a man and had no clear understanding yet that I was gay.  I snuck into two of the meetings (“snuck” because I didn’t want my other female lawyer colleagues from Utah to realize where I was going).   I was awestruck listening to these strong women (who included Donna Hitchens and Roberta Achtenberg, two of the original founders of NCLR) talking about lesbian mothers and custody rights.   To my naive mind, it hadn’t even occurred to me that lesbians would want to have children, nor that they would ever have any custody rights in a contested divorce action.  

Skip ahead a few years to the early 1980s, and I had gotten divorced from the man, fallen in love with a woman, and met Kathy Kendell through some mutual friends who were part of a National Organization for Women (NOW) group in Ogden, Utah - the town where I lived and practiced law.  Kathy was a college student.  She was a star on the college debate team and I knew she had the potential to be a great lawyer.  Never did I imagine she would become THE lawyer for lesbians (and other sorts of LGBTQ people) everywhere.   

Move up another decade to the early 1990s, and Kathy and I were both testing our wings in Utah as “out” lesbian attorneys.  We both spoke at a conference at the University of Utah.  For me, it was one of the first times I had been willing to be openly identified as a lesbian in a crowd of strangers. When our remarks were covered by our hometown newspaper, the Ogden Standard Examiner, I nervously read the article, wondering what my father and clients would say about this. To my great delight,  while the article mentioned both our names, the only photo it ran was Kathy’s.  Whew - I had eased gently into the public identification experience. And typical of Kathy, she’s been paving the way for me ever since.   

Fast forward again to February 2004, the “winter of love.”  Mayor Gavin Newsom had started allowing same sex marriages in San Francisco.   Kathy - now Kate - was right in the thick of it. Not only did we appreciate her professional advocacy, we appreciated her personal support when she encouraged Tami (my partner and finally legal wife, see Why I’ve Been Married 8 Times – Lauren, can you insert hyperlink to Huff Post article here?) and me to fly to San Francisco. She met us at the courthouse and she and Sandy, her partner (now wife) were going to be our witnesses.  We ended up having to stand in line all day, and they had jobs to get to, so we missed out on actually having them be present at our ceremony. However, we got to trade phone calls all day long about life in the line, our chances of getting through the door to the clerk’s office that day, etc.   

Throughout the many ups and downs of the national fight for gay civil equality, I’ve been lucky to call her my friend.  Since meeting in the early 80s, we’ve each experienced our own share of break-ups, deaths of parents, deaths of friends, weddings of friends, and the joy of children and grandchildren.   While she is known around the country for her groundbreaking civil rights work, she is known to me as a dear friend of close to four decades.  And while I was initially her mentor, she soon surpassed me - illustrating the power of every educator’s goal: “the student becomes the teacher.”

The depth and breadth of Kate’s teaching was evident as she closed out the evening at the 41st annual NCLR celebration.   Noting that the current administration’s policies have taken the country to a new state of division and fragility, she reminded the crowd that they hold the key to moving forward.  “We, the LGBTQ community, know what it is like to have and stay in difficult conversations.   We discuss, we learn, we educate, and we lead. We are the ones who can make the difference.”         

Plan-B receives 9th NEA Grant in 10 years!

Plan-B to Receive $10,000 Art Works Grantfrom the National Endowment for the Arts

National Endowment for the Arts Chairman Jane Chu has approved more than $80 million in grants as part of the NEA’s second major funding announcement for fiscal year 2018. Included in this announcement is an Art Works grant of $10,000 to Plan-B Theatre Company for the world premiere of ZOMBIE THOUGHTS by Jennifer A. Kokai & her 11-year-old son Oliver Kokai-Means. ZOMBIE THOUGHTS is Plan-B’s sixth annual Free Elementary School Tour and the fourth consecutively funded by the NEA. The Art Works category is the NEA’s largest funding category and supports projects that focus on the creation of art that meets the highest standards of excellence, public engagement with diverse and excellent art, lifelong learning in the arts, and/or the strengthening of communities through the arts.

“The variety and quality of these projects speaks to the wealth of creativity and diversity in our country,” said NEA Chairman Jane Chu. “Through the work of organizations such as Plan-B Theatre Company, NEA funding invests in local communities, helping people celebrate the arts wherever they are.”

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders affect 1 in 8 children in the United States. ZOMBIE THOUGHTS, created specifically for grades 4-6, is the story of Sam and Pig, avatars in a video game. Sam is anxious. Pig is punny. Will the audience be able to help them make the right choices on their quest to defeat the evil Machine? A sometimes touching, sometimes hilarious journey in, around and through anxiety. 

ZOMBIE THOUGHTS will serve 8,000 students at 46 elementary schools in 12 counties across Utah between October 1-November 16, 2018 (presenting partners include Davis Arts Council, Entrada Institute, Salt Lake City Public Library and Weber State University’s Arts Learning Collaborative). There will also be four public performances:

Weber State University (tickets $3-$5, available September 1):

Monday, October 8: Browning Center, Room 136 at 7pm

Three branches of the Salt Lake City Public Library (all free): 

Saturday, October 13: Main Branch at 11am
Saturday, October 13: Chapman Branch at 1pm
Thursday, October 25: Glendale Branch at 4:30pm

"Although each year's Tour offers free public performances, I've made it a point to sneak away from my office during the day to see each of the past three Tours in elementary schools," says Plan-B's board president Jesse Nix. "There is nothing quite like being in the room when kids are interacting with art." Artistic Director Jerry Rapier truly believes a 30-minute play can make a difference: “By dispelling misunderstandings surrounding anxiety for the students, teachers and administrators experiencing ZOMBIE THOUGHTS, our hope is to help each school we serve become a safer space for each of its students.”

ZOMBIE THOUGHTS features Katie Jones & Alicia Washington, is designed by Arika Schockmel, stage managed by Sharah Meservy and directed by Cheryl Cluff. 

 Visit planbtheatre.org/zombiethoughts for more information and to bring ZOMBIE THOUGHTS to your school (booking preference given to Title I schools)